Prêt-à-Mesure and Clinique Vestimentaire
Interview with Jeanne Vicerial
By Marco Pecorari
Up till now, the two main techniques of fashion production have been ready-to-wear and tailor-made. But is there are third way? According to Jeanne Vicerial, the answer is yes. We spoke to the Parisian mastermind behind the project Clinique Vestimentaire, who has launched the revolutionary technique ‘prêt-à-mesure.’ When working as a fashion designer in ready-to-wear, Jeanne realized that the concept of the individual body in all its variations and complexities had completely disappeared from the creative chain. By combining theory and practice, she dedicated her doctoral research to rethinking existent production models. ‘Prêt-à-mesure’ is a ready-to-measure technique that combines tailor-made and ready-to-wear, and Jeanne has even developed a weaving machine that produces woven garments based on individual measurements, without any textile waste. By doing so, she has revitalized and deepened the discussion of how to make sustainable fashion a new paradigm.
In the exhibition Are Clothes Modern? held at MoMa in 1945, the architect Bernard Rudofsky built a critique to the irrational practices of the fashion industry, stressing its mazes and unreasonable designing and advertising practices. At the same time, Rudofsky was one of the first architects to look at clothing design and the potential of garments in the construction of the modern world and modern human. Many of Rudofsky’s ideas resonate today at a time when ideas of innovations and sustainability seem to tackle the timing and extreme dérive of the fashion industry. However, contrary to Rudofsky’s project, today these critiques are often remaining at a discursive level and rarely enter the discussion on a sartorial paradigm. This interview shows a shift in this tendency and presents a new model – ‘prêt à mesure’ – proposed by Jeanne Vicerial, at Textile & Fashion Design at the SACRe – PSL Research University in Paris. In her works as designer and doctoral researcher, Vicerial moves back the attention to techniques, tools and machines of fashion, revitalizing and deepening the current discourse on fashion paradigms for sustainability. The French designer reminds us of modernist discourses about the body and clothing because, as she argues, “if the clothing does not make the individual, it does allows the transformation of his silhouette.”
Could you tell us a bit about your path?
Since childhood, my attention has always been on clothing. I could customize myself, draw, create real worlds and role-playing games in which I totally abandoned myself. I obtained the Diploma in Costume design (Diplôme des Métiers d’art, costumier réalisateur) with a focus on the study of 19th century women’s historical costume. Here, I acquired knowledge and practice about the historical techniques of sewing. Fitting, retouching, moulding, corsetry, patronage, measuring, hand sewing, finishing. This profession involves a specific know-how, often consisting of embellishing and modifying the body by adding external structures, crinolines for example, by forced compression (corset) or by a game of cutting and graphics. Through the study of these historical techniques, I understood how a unique and perfectly adapted garment is made according to the morphology of a client. After this experience, I studied clothing design at the Paris Decorative Arts School in Paris (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs) which led me to the world of fashion. Basically, I moved from a world where the realization was made to measure, according to very varied morphologies, to a world where the realization of the clothing is carried out by convention on mannequins’ sizes 36/38 Couture, answering a normalization of the body. I made a 100-year leap in history, moving from ‘tailor-made’ to ‘ready-to-wear’, from a craft – where the craftsman was able to produce all the links in a value chain – to an industrial world where tasks are divided up, in order to be able to produce clothing in series.
What made you start your PhD project?
I was intrigued by similar issues that are developed in Li Edelkoort’s manifesto where she predicts the ‘death’ of fashion and its system—in the face of these questions and the various problems that make the fashion industry obsolete and sick. Similarly, I wanted to develop research on the notion of tailor-made clothing. I desired to study this process in order to propose an alternative way to contemporary clothing production. For any clothing design, it seems necessary to focus on the semantics of clothing in order to rethink our design and production models. Understanding the human being and his body allows us to rethink clothing. It’s in this sense that I wanted to pursue my doctorate in order to develop the concepts that I had started to implement during my master’s degree. Being able to combine theory and practice was essential.
How do you envision the role of the body?
During my apprenticeship as a designer, I was confronted with the two main techniques of clothing designs; Custom-made (tailoring) and Ready-to-Wear. First, I learned to design a unique garment made from particular bodies; then I learned to design clothes in series according to representations of the normalized body. I learned craftsmanship and then industrial clothing production. I learned to sew by hand and then by machine. I learned how to shape a mannequin to my client’s particular morphology and then I learned how to use mannequins of predefined sizes. I learned the dialogue between craftsman and customer and then I learned to stop talking to the body, but to make the market study speak in order to define which garment will be best suited for sale. I learned how to make adjustments to perfectly fit a garment on a woman’s body and then I learned to grade so that my patterns can be classified by size S, M or L. Strangely enough, by moving from custom-made to ready-to-wear, I learned to forget about the woman’s body. I also learned that the body is an object of specific study and attention, but that it can be represented in semi-standard in its inter-individual variability. Today, I propose a creation/realization technique that reconciles ready-to-wear and custom made products in order to no longer forget the ‘Inter’ and even ‘Intra’ individual morphological variability of the body. It’s our body that will wear the garment. It’s the base, the structure that holds the garment. Each human being is complex, unique as a person, but sharing more or less common desires as a social individual. Therefore, each measure must be unique, too.
You seem to rethink the meanings of the technology of the body through design.
Like the architect, the couturier needs to know the ‘terrain’, the development of the clothing industry has made us forget about the body itself. Body appearance becomes essential. Today, it’s possible to modify our anatomy, we shape our body. The skin, just like clothing, dresses the body. Underneath our jacket is another fabric: the dermis/skin. It’s the border between me and others. For example, the tattoo becomes the textile impression of the dermis, tanning a way to tan or dye it. Cosmetics become skin care products like wax, water repellent is for leather or fabric. Piercings can be associated with the pins and ornaments that we used to apply to our toilet, or they can also be associated with the closing tools (pressures, zippers, rivets…). Breast prostheses or those used to increase the gluteus maximus are the descendants of Crinolines and ‘tournure’ … we see then that the realization of a custom-made silhouette, once performed by the designer, is now performed by the surgeon directly on the skin and flesh. The craftsman took measurements and proposed a sketch of a perfectly adapted garment according to the wishes of his customers. The body specialists (plastic surgeons, nutritionists) use the same procedures and before any interventions, they will measure, weigh and propose to the patients, according to their desires, a model of their future body (3D modelling, computer retouching). The surgeon comes to mold, transform the body of his patient as the designer made a custom mold according to the morphology of his client. The skin has become the main fabric of the 21st century, allowing the creation of a new custom-made garment: The Body, relegating the fabric garment to the rank of accessories and adornment.
What difficulties did you encounter during your research?
I think the greatest difficulty has been to cross the doors of some institutions in order to make them want to collaborate on a ‘FASHION’ project. Sometimes it took time to make the dialogue work (to be considered not only as an aesthetic specialist because of my status as a ‘fashion’ designer).
In your project, you develop a specific practice where time and resources play an important role.
The reflections I developed in my research brought me to look at the body and clothing together, at the same level; to consider them as modular surfaces. First of all, I wanted to study the garment or design the garment as a body, like a ‘dress surgeon’ (chirurgien vestimentaire). This is, of course, an analogy, a precise visual universe that allows the creation of new processes. In my research, I used the model of human muscle as a clothing design system. All patterns are extracted from human anatomy to create a new skin: ‘the garment’. By revealing the morphological construction, clothes expose the construction of the body. Each weaving is made from a single recycled yarn. This technique makes it possible to produce ‘tailor-made’ woven garments without any waste. This is how the first collection 466 km/fil was born. The idea here was to start from the human being and put him at the center of the clothing design. This is how I wanted to look under our skin, to understand our structure through the study of human anatomy and morphology.
Tell us about your unique technique.
The story is quite simple. I tried to develop my own textile system by making parts directly on my mannequin. After having shaped my mannequin to the desired measurements, I covered it with threads according to an arrangement that followed the inspiration of anatomy books. Textile muscle weaving comes from the comparison between human muscle weaving and textile weaving techniques. The idea is to reproduce by inspiration the human muscular system. Textile tests have been carried out with different types of yarns. Then I focused on a particular yarn that I could recover in large quantities and at a lower cost. I collect the reels from the ‘over less’, from the surpluses of some Parisian fashion houses. It is a resistant mercerized polyester yarn used mainly in the leather industry. In some textile projects, the density of certain parts was impossible to fix in an ordinary way, with a conventional sewing needle. So, I had to start finding special tools, for example the surgeon’s curved needle that made it possible to perfectly fix some textile muscle weavings.
Your work for Clinique Vestimentaire challenged not only the design process but also the very making of machines used to yarn. Could you explain this unique experience and the challenges you had to face?
This technique was not directly related to the stitch or weaving. Actually, I didn’t have any tools. I had to start creating my toolbox that confronted the world of sewing, leather goods and surgery. I also had to invent terms to define the stitches. I was making everything anew, so I had to put in place a fairly precise protocol. Tools and technology have an important role in this process. Today, the technique is called ‘tricotissage,’ ‘knitting-weaving’ and, as its name suggests, it is the computation of the knitting and weaving (tricot et tissage) technique. It’s important to note here, that this technique allows the production of textile parts without any waste since the material necessary for the production of the part is consumed as well as in the mesh. This project to design a new tool is at the heart of my doctoral research. It’s the creation of a semi-automatic tool to replace part of my manual work during my first experiments. This project was made possible by the establishment of a collaboration with the École des Mines de Paris (Paris tech) and the Mechatronics Department. The project was given as a subject of study to future engineering students. Thus, for three years we have been collaborating to co-develop a robot capable of knitting custom-made clothing parts on a semi-industrial scale.
How do you see your role in the current fashion industry?
This question is difficult, I don’t think I have a particular role in the fashion industry. I’m just trying to reintegrate the individual body into the clothing design process. What has been achieved both physically and theoretically is to lay the foundations for reflection. My project made it possible to propose different experiments and approaches allowing communication between tailor-made and ready-to-wear. The different hypotheses demonstrate the possibility of reintegrating the measure into the design process. I wanted to explore robotics, cutting and manual skills in order to bring all these notions together. The ready-to-measure or ready-to-tailoring (prêt-à-mesure) is a paradigm shift linked to the findings and then various research and experiments conducted as part of my research. The idea is to find various clothing design systems that can reintroduce individuals’ particular measurements, morphological changes/variations, as well as their heart and mind desires into the clothing design chain. Ready-to-measure is a concept that combines the concepts of tailor-made and ready-to-wear in order to offer a new clothing service. The ‘prêt à mesure’ offers an interaction between the individual/customer, the product and contemporary clothing production/design. We can see that with ready-to-wear, the individual has completely disappeared from the creative chain. With the ready-to-measure, the individual can be present at different places in this chain.
Where would you place yourself in the French landscape? And how do you think your work could challenge the current scenario of both production and consumption of fashion?
I think I have a hybrid situation. I want to navigate in different ‘worlds.’ Being active in an art or design research laboratory as well as in a science, electronics or mechanical laboratory and in my creative studio is an interdisciplinary nexus necessary for the communion of disciplines. I think I’m situated by the projects I develop, each project requires particular actors, adequate disciplines chosen there also carefully my measure. I hope that this way of designing can make it possible to produce clothes that are closer to us. I want to re-establish the link between the customer, the designer, but also the place of the manufacturer. We can therefore imagine sales/workshop areas where the entire creation and manufacturing chain would be present.
What is your next project?
I would like to create a new piece of clothing that ‘combines’ all the textile techniques I was able to develop during these doctoral years. Like the manuscript of the thesis written, I conceive this piece as a physical research/thesis of the experiments I have carried out over the past five years. At the same time, I would like to develop a work around metal and textiles in order to create clothing jewelry, ‘Bijoux Vestimentaires.’
Marco Pecorari is the Director of the MA in Fashion Studies at Parsons Paris where he teaches fashion history and theory. He holds a PhD from the Centre for Fashion Studies at Stockholm University.